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Canadians Are Going Bankrupt, So Let's Change the Money Conversation

11/04/2013 12:23 EST | Updated 10/06/2014 05:59 EDT

A few days ago, a good friend and I went to the National Women's Show in Toronto. Minutes upon entering the convention space, we walked by a booth with a stripper pole promoting a fitness studio.

This whole event was a bizarre concoction of big brand names next to scrappy independents, and wedged between weird cosmetic procedures, all dolling out samples and freebies. And of course, there were speakers on the centre stage talking about things like hormonal health.

My friend remarked that if aliens from another planet landed on Earth and came to this event with a mission to understand the female of the human species, they would leave as confused and baffled as we ourselves were going from aisle to aisle. We both remarked: do any of these vendors have any idea of what women really want? Then again, do we as women really know what we want?

Interestingly, amidst the plethora of health and wellness products, there were none representing the most important type of health, and something that matters to every single woman I know: financial health.

With the exception of a food retailer that happens to have its own financial brand and was there promoting it, there was a noticeable absence of banking and financial services companies at this event.

What a massive missed golden opportunity on so many levels for banks and financial institutions!

And if memory serves me correctly, November is financial literacy month in Canada, is it not?

Financial health is something that most women continue to struggle with, and yet in our otherwise uber-liberal society, talking about money remains the last taboo. And this has significant and far-reaching implications.

Women have a complicated and sometimes dysfunctional relationship with money.

Quite often, women will share their most intimate sexual secrets with their girlfriends, or even admit their penchant for stealing office supplies rather than talk about money, and this comes at a tremendous cost.

Did you know that not only did the overall number of women (especially single, divorced and widowed) who declared bankruptcy after the 2008 Recession go through the roof both in Canada and the U.S., but it's been on a steady rise ever since?

The silent struggle to overcome insurmountable debt often because of a series of crushing big life events (including downsizings, divorce, medical expenses, long periods of unemployment etc.) is forcing more and more women to take the severe step of going through with the "Big B," which in our otherwise liberal and open society, is often still looked upon as having leprosy.

That talking about money is still so taboo, means that women live in pain and silence and in the shadows with this, and it perpetuates the far-reaching impact before, during and after a personal financial crisis happens. And by then it's usually too late.

There is a big opportunity here for our financial institutions.

There continues to be an insidious and systemic problem around financial literacy in general that is not getting fixed. And this illiteracy problem spans across all generations (and both genders).

"Around 69 per cent of parents admit to feeling less prepared to give their teenager guidance about investing than they do having the 'sex talk' with them." (Charles Schwab's 2008 Parents & Money)

Those within our financial institutions have a massive opportunity right now to step up and take a new and more authentic leadership role in today's precarious and uncertain economic climate.

This means empowering women of all ages to have money conversations, because they truly and confidently get it. This also means banks being more authentically engaged and responsible for the products you're pushing at us, and the assumptions you are making about us.

Our sense of financial literacy and empowerment will not grow through another inane seminar on savings plans or RSPs, complete with nasty coffee and stale donuts, and conducted by a friendly, smiley, blue-suited bank representative who clearly has no connection to the real world, or to real women.

Really talk to us. Empower us. Make us feel safe and confident that we know what to do when life happens, and more importantly that you will actually listen to us and be there for the long haul to help us find creative ways to weather the storms, and be there for us, in truly genuine and authentic ways.

"Mr. Banker," it's time for you to change the "women and money" conversation.

And what's in it for you? Our loyalty as customers. That's worth fighting for...don't you think so?

NOTE:This blog has been edited from its original form.

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